Should you observe Pentecost 2001 on May 27 or June 3?
The writer is pastor of the Church of God Big Sandy.
By Dave Havir
BIG SANDY, Texas--In the past couple of months I have received telephone calls and E-mail from people around the country who have questions about counting Pentecost this year.
Pentecost is the only "feast of the Lord" whose date we arrive at by counting 50 days from another "feast of the Lord" (Leviticus 23:16).
Comments and questions about Pentecost include:
Here's the deal
The purpose of this article is threefold:
(For the record, I realize there are many other options for determining the date of Pentecost.)
How people deal with calendar issues in general and counting Pentecost in 2001 reveals much about the maturity level among the Churches of God.
Calendar issues in general and counting Pentecost were a whole lot simpler when I believed that God's government on earth was situated in a particular branch among the Churches of God.
For years my view of what we called "God's sacred calendar" was directly connected to my perception of God's government on earth. The headquarters of my church told me when I would observe the annual feast days.
When I came to realize that God's government on earth was not to be found in one specific administration among the Churches of God, I, like many other people, perceived a need to become more familiar with the process of determining when to observe the annual feasts.
When I believed that my church established--or at least sanctioned--the only set of correct dates for the annual days, I had only one option. In my mind there were no other possibilities.
When I no longer believed that a church established the only correct set of dates, a world of possibilities opened up.
Many months ago I was introduced to some differences of opinion regarding the way to "count 50" and thereby calculate the date of Pentecost.
It came to my attention that two Church of God writers, John Ritenbaugh and Frank Nelte, planned to observe Pentecost on Sunday, June 3, this year, rather than Sunday, May 27. Most of the groups I know among the Churches of God plan to observe the May date.
Especially interesting to me was that Mr. Ritenbaugh and Mr. Nelte arrived at the June 3 date by entirely different methods:
God's sacred calendar?
In the interest of full disclosure, I want to make some quick comments on my view of the calendar.
For the record, many people continue to use the calculated Jewish calendar, even though they no longer call any calendar option "God's sacred calendar."
Waving a sheaf
In Leviticus 23:9-22 God gave instructions to Moses about the Feast of Pentecost. In verse 11 God describes "waving" a "sheaf" on the "morrow after the Sabbath."
What was the wave sheaf?
Technically, the Bible does not include the phrase "wave sheaf." It does, however, in these verses, direct someone to "wave" a "sheaf," and it talks about "wave offerings" (as in verse 15).
The wave sheaf was a bundle of grain the Levitical priests ceremonially waved in the air at various times. The wave offering we're concerned with here was one that occurred during the time of the Days of Unleavened Bread.
In verse 15 God describes counting from the "morrow after the Sabbath." In verse 16 He describes numbering 50 days.
We understand that the morrow after the Sabbath is important. Therefore, it also makes sense that the identity of this Sabbath is also important. To identify the morrow after the Sabbath, a person must first identify the Sabbath spoken of here.
Here are the three options for the identity of this Sabbath.
First day of UB
Here is option No. 1. Some people believe the Sabbath mentioned in Leviticus 23:15-16 is the first day of Unleavened Bread, which we consider to be an annual Sabbath.
This makes Pentecost a fixed date. The day after the first day of Unleavened Bread is Nisan 16. According to this option, counting 50 days from this day brings Pentecost to Sivan 6 (which falls on May 28 this year).
Seventh day of UB
Here is option No. 2. Some people believe the Sabbath mentioned in Leviticus 23:15-16 is the seventh day of Unleavened Bread, which we consider to be an annual Sabbath.
This also makes Pentecost fall on a fixed date. The day after the last day of Unleavened Bread is Nisan 22. Under this option, counting 50 from this day brings Pentecost to Sivan 12 (which falls on June 3 this year).
Here is option No. 3. Some people think the Sabbath mentioned in Leviticus 23:15-16 is the weekly Sabbath during the Days of Unleavened Bread.
This does not come out to a fixed date. Counting 50 days from it means Pentecost can fall on various dates on the calendar. This is the method the WCG used for decades and is still practiced by the Church of God groups originating from the WCG.
Many who disagree about whether to observe Pentecost on May 27 or June 3 have more in common than they might imagine.
Notice two facts:
Their differences occur during the years when the Passover falls on the weekly Sabbath.
For those who follow the calculated Jewish calendar, the Passover falls on the weekly Sabbath in certain years that include 1954, 1974, 1977, 1981, 1994, 2001, 2005 and 2008.
You may ask: How does that affect anything?
In those years the first day of Unleavened Bread is a Sunday, and the seventh day of Unleavened Bread is a Saturday.
You may ask again: So what?
People who agree that calculations should start from the morrow after the weekly Sabbath sometimes disagree over another issue during these particular years.
Two subplots of option No. 3
Two subplots of option No. 3 exist because of two counting methods. They are the "counting-from-without" method and the "counting-from-within" method.
By reviewing a little history, we can see how an administrative change by the WCG in 1974 has influenced the day many are keeping in 2001.
For the record, I view the decision of 1974 by the leadership of the WCG only as a historical reference, because I do not view the administrative change as a binding decree of God's government on earth.
Back in 1974 the WCG made two administrative simultaneous decisions about its observance of Pentecost.
You may remember one of the changes: Beginning in 1974 the WCG began observing Pentecost on Sunday rather than Monday.
(For the record, this change was in answer to questions about whether Pentecost should be counted "inclusively" or "exclusively.")
But even many old-timers in the Church of God do not remember another change the WCG made at the same time: Beginning in 1974 the WCG also changed the way it calculated Pentecost when the Passover happens to fall on the weekly Sabbath.
Without or within
Before 1974 the WCG used the counting-from-without method to calculate Pentecost in years such as 2001.
Beginning in 1974 the WCG used the counting-from-within method to calculate Pentecost in years such as 2001.
Looking at the 2001 scenario, here is a basic difference between the two methods.
To some people it is more important for the Sabbath (April 14) to be within the Days of Unleavened Bread than for the morrow after the Sabbath (April 15) to be within the Days of Unleavened Bread.
Counting 50 brings them to June 3.
To some people it is more important for the morrow after the Sabbath (April 8) to be within the Days of Unleavened Bread than for the Sabbath (April 7) to be within the Days of Unleavened Bread.
Counting 50 brings them to May 27.
What about Joshua 5?
People who are serious students of the counting of Pentecost eventually undertake a thorough study of Joshua 5:11-12.
Some claim that Joshua 5:11-12 shows that the wave sheaf was offered on the first day of Unleavened Bread (in a year in which the Passover falls on a weekly Sabbath).
Others claim that Joshua 5:11-12 proves no such thing.
If you are interested in this aspect of the discussion, you can find various study papers on this subject.
Follow your convictions
Although I have chosen to keep Pentecost on May 27, I encourage you to follow your convictions.
The congregation I attend, the Church of God Big Sandy, plans to conduct a Pentecost service on May 27. But we want individual members of our congregation to follow their convictions. If they believe they should keep June 3, they should do so in faith.
From my perspective, those who will keep May 27 or June 3 (or some other day) should not cram their beliefs down anyone's throat. People with either conviction should not police the convictions of other people.
Understand that some people feel compelled to try making you think, feel and believe just as they do. Please do not imitate their erroneous approach.
Followers of Jesus Christ
Some people--in this matter and other matters involving the calendar--spend so much time imitating the Pharisees that they forget to act like followers of Jesus Christ.
The Pharisees were precise in their physical obedience, but they missed the weightier matters of the law.
They were so busy trying to be doorkeepers to the Kingdom (Matthew 23:13) that they forgot to rely on God to overcome their innate wickedness (verses 25-28).
One of the major lessons of Pentecost is the power of God's Spirit.
Will you allow the Holy Spirit to make you strong in your personal convictions as you show love toward other people who follow their convictions?
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